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- "There was very real pressure, real present danger from this Taliban force which was adopting a conventional posture in Panjwai and clearly demonstrating an intent to cut off Kandahar city and cut off Highway 1. None of which boded well, obviously, for the future of the south of Afghanistan. So, something had to be done in a couple of different respects both to gain the trust of the Afghan people, start to win their confidence, and to get those bad guys out of there so that the threat was removed."
- ― Lieutenant-General Gauthier, commenting on the situation surrounding the buildup to Operation MEDUSA [src]
Operation MEDUSA was a Canadian-led military offensive against Taliban insurgents by major elements of the NATO–ISAF coalition and Afghan National Army during the War in Afghanistan. The combat portion of the operation officially began on September 2, 2006 and would conclude just over two-weeks later on September 17. The following month, ending on October 14, the reconstruction phase of MEDUSA took place. The operation had a number of different objectives: first, MEDUSA aimed to disperse, or destroy, the hundreds, if not thousands, of insurgents that had cemented themselves in the Panjwaii District, 30km south of Kandahar City; the second objective was a direct child of the first in that NATO-ISAF commanders planned for MEDUSA to establish Afghan government control over the Panjwaii District, thus extending national influence over a swathe of geography which had historically been the heartland of the insurgency; lastly, following the conclusion of the combat portion of Operation MEDUSA, the reconstruction phase, which was under the control of the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), would begin making the fought-over territory again suitable for local civilians to live in.
At the end of the second phase of the operation more than two dozen coalition soldiers had been killed and scores more wounded by both direct action against the insurgents and IED attacks. Due to leading the operation, Canada would suffer the highest enemy-combat related deaths, losing fifteen soldiers over the seven-week long campaign. The operation was marked by several other incidents, such as the death of fourteen British service personal in a jet crash, a friendly fire incident by American forces which killed one Canadian and wounded thirty-five others, as well as controversies revolving around the number of insurgents killed and Afghan civilian deaths.
At that point in the fall of 2006 Operation MEDUSA has been noted as being the largest battle to occur in Afghanistan since the initial coalition invasion of 2001, the first NATO ground combat operation in history, as well as the largest Canadian offensive to take place since the Korean War.
- 1 Origins and background
- 2 Operation MEDUSA
- 2.1 Prelude
- 2.2 European caveats
- 2.3 Planning and coordination
- 2.4 First phase: Combat operations
- 2.5 Change of plans
- 2.6 Initial push across the Arghanbad
- 2.7 Friendly fire incident
- 2.8 Attacks from the north
- 2.9 The taking of Sperwan Ghar
- 2.10 The fall of Objective Rugby
- 2.11 Second phase: Reconstruction
- 3 Aftermath
- 3.1 Coalition casualties
- 3.2 Controversy surrounding insurgent casualties
- 3.3 Civilian deaths
- 3.4 Friendly fire Board of Inquiry
- 3.5 Awards and decorations earned
- 3.6 Effects on those involved
- 3.7 2010 Afghan War Diary controversy
- 4 Notes and references
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
Origins and background
- "We also found out the Taliban had changed their tactics. They went from small group hit-and-run to conventional come-and-get-me. Their intent was to prove to the world and the Karzai government that they could take us on. It was the culmination of their 2006 idea, I won’t even say campaign plan. It was their idea of how they wanted to finish off the fighting that year, and finish off the fighting in total."
- ― Brigadier-General David Fraser, commenting on the Taliban's approach to fighting in late-2006 [src]
The setting for Operation MEDUSA was the Panjwaii District, situated within the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. The Panjwaii had historically been a stronghold for Afghan fighters throughout numerous wars and campaigns, and had, up until 2006, been a district in which North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers had typically avoided. Panjwaii, they knew, was the birthplace of both the Taliban movement as well as its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar — because of this, the area was regarded as the spiritual homeland of the Taliban insurgency. However, in the spring of 2006 Task Force Orion (TF Orion), which was composed of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (1PPCLI) and various support elements, arrived in the Kandahar Province and soon began an aggressive campaign against the Taliban forces which had made Panjwaii their base of operations.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope, Commanding Officer of both 1PPCLI and TF Orion, had observed that the Panjwaii District was being used by the Taliban, and other insurgent fighters, as a staging ground for various ambushes, attacks, and bombing campaigns against the soldiers of the NATO-ISAF coalition. Receiving permission to pursue the Taliban directly into the heart of Panjwaii, Hope led the soldiers of Orion in a large number of confrontations with the insurgent fighters who, Hope and the other Canadian officers observed, were continuously growing in numbers with every passing week. Through an intense intelligence campaign, the Canadians were able to learn that the Taliban was aiming to mass their troop numbers in the Panjwaii District in preparation for a major attack against Kandahar City, the capital of the Kandahar Province. Hope had learned that the Taliban knew that they could not hold the city against any NATO-ISAF counterattack, but planned on an attack to take the city nonetheless; they hoped that their taking of Kandahar City, even though they would eventually be forced to retreat, would be seen as a great victory against the NATO-ISAF coalition and one which would cause irreparable public-relations damage among the Western forces. To this end the Taliban escalated their efforts in the south of Afghanistan; by June 2006 there had been a 600% increase in insurgent attacks, since the beginning of that year, against coalition and government forces in Kandahar and the bordering provinces.
Through a number of battles and operations in the spring and summer of 2006, Task Force Orion was able to temporarily diminish the Taliban's plans for any direct attack against Kandahar City at that time. Nevertheless, the Taliban continued to build their forces in the Panjwaii District, with Canadian estimations putting the numbers at nearly 12,000 insurgents being massed in the area over the course of the previous months. Likewise, the Taliban persisted in their ambushes and bomb campaigns against the soldiers of NATO and ISAF. Due to the increasing insurgent presence being reported in the Panjwaii District, coalition commanders planned for another push into the area centred around the town and area of Pashmul. It was this push which was the culmination of Task Force Orion's tour of duty in Kandahar, several weeks before the task force was scheduled to leave the Afghan theatre. During this time the Canadians attempted to capture a bazaar comprised of roughly a dozen buildings, but encountered stiff enemy resistance which forced them to slightly alter their plan of attack. Instead, the Canadians managed to temporarily capture a school complex — one which would eventually become known simply as the "White Schoolhouse" — and fight the Taliban from inside it. However, the situation soon turned desperate for the Canadians as the Taliban launched a coordinated attack against the now defending PPCLI soldiers. Under heavy enemy contact, the Canadians were ordered to withdraw by LCol Hope. At the end of this battle, four Canadians had been killed, another six were wounded, and the Taliban had suffered dozens of killed and dozens more wounded. Despite this, the insurgents were still in control of the White Schoolhouse. Around the same time, the soldiers of Task Force 3-06 (TF 3-06) had begun to arrive in theatre to relieve Task Force Orion. Realizing the tactical situation which his task force was now deploying into, LCol Omer Lavoie, commander of TF 3-06, began to make plans with other senior Canadian officers for an operation through which NATO and ISAF commanders hoped would once and for all root the Taliban out of the Panjwaii District — this operation would eventually culminate into Operation MEDUSA.
- "I had not anticipated having my first command combat experience within hours of transfer of command authority."
- ― Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie, CO of TF 3-06, commenting on the August 19 attack [src]
During the planning and buildup to Operation MEDUSA, the Taliban decided to test the newly arrived soldiers of Task Force 3-06, composed of mainly men and women from CFB Petawawa's 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR). On August 19, within hours of the handover ceremony which marked the Canadian Change of Command, upwards of 500 Taliban insurgents attacked the lightly defended Canadian strong point of Masum Ghar, which was situated within the same area as the White Schoolhouse. The insurgent attack resulted in approximately 100 Taliban dead and no Canadian casualties. Nevertheless, the attack on Masum Ghar reinforced several points: firstly, it showed the newly arrived Canadian commanders that they were facing a determined, well-organized, and large Taliban force; secondly, the attack demonstrated that the Taliban build-up in the area of Pashmul and Panjwaii represented a significant threat to the movement of ISAF-NATO-ANSF forces along Highway 1; and lastly, the attack also sent the message to NATO and ISAF commanders that the insurgents were able to gather en masse the forces required to directly challenge the more heavily armed and equipped NATO-ISAF forces. Approximately two weeks later the opening shots of Operation MEDUSA would be fired, and the Canadian attack would again be focused on the area surrounding the White Schoolhouse, now designated as Objective Rugby. Over the previous six months leading up to Operation MEDUSA the Canadians, mainly soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, had been routinely engaging enemy insurgents in and around the Panjwaii District. Operation MEDUSA was designed to bring about a decisive Canadian and coalition victory in the Battle for Panjwaii, and firmly cement NATO-ISAF and Afghan government troops in the disputed district.
- "This was not just an attack; it was not just an operational fight; it was a NATO fight, it was everything and the more that we got into this fight, the more the pink cards — the un-stated national caveats started to creep into it. The more we got into the fight, the more we found that this was exactly what NATO was built for. This was almost Cold War-like type of fighting. It was conventional fighting. But not everyone was prepared to participate."
- ― Brigadier-General Fraser, commenting on the European NATO community's commitment to Operation MEDUSA [src]
To this end, the clearing of Panjwaii of insurgent fighters and establishing a permanent NATO-ISAF presence there, the Canadian commanders in Kandahar, as well as the overall NATO-ISAF commander in Afghanistan, British Lieutenant-General David Richards, believed that Operation MEDUSA should be the main effort of all NATO and ISAF forces in theatre. Nevertheless, the operation would end up to be mainly a Canadian action once the effort was under way. American and British forces were already heavily engaged elsewhere in Afghanistan and were hard-pressed to assist the main effort, although both nations did what they could to support the Canadians. For the most part, the Dutch government refused to allow their soldiers to engage in actual combat for the duration of Operation MEDUSA; however, exceptions did exist such as an understrength infantry company that was eventually added to the order of battle, far north of MEDUSA's main objection, and three Dutch Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery pieces that were tasked to operate alongside the main Canadian M777 howitzer batteries of 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Likewise, the Dutch agreed to temporarily take over security duties at a forward operating base as well as outposts along Highway 1 which were being manned by Canadian soldiers, thus allowing Canadian resources to be freed up for the coming operation. While the Dutch agreed to help out Operation MEDUSA in a limited capacity, as did the military of Denmark through the contribution of a squad of soldiers, other European NATO countries deployed in Afghanistan refused to contribute to the ISAF operation in any way. The Germans, who were stationed in the northern province of Kunduz, refused to send any soldiers or resources south to Panjwaii; French forces, who were likewise stationed in the north, but in the Uruzgan Province, were also barred by their government to participate in the upcoming combat operation; the Italians from the Herat Province were prevented from lending aid to the fight. Nevertheless, Portugal, though not very numerous in terms of soldiers in Afghanistan, did agree to move soldiers to Kandahar Airfield to relieve the Canadians of their static security duties there. Overall, however, when asked by the Canadian military for help in the upcoming Operation MEDUSA most European NATO countries presented national caveats that precluded them from assisting the Canadians in any fighting in Pashmul. As one senior Canadian officer said when asked about the European commitment to MEDUSA, "We were basically told you're on your fucking own for a while."
Despite the hundred or fewer soldiers who formed the combat contingent from European countries, the Canadian commanders of Operation MEDUSA felt that, aside from a select few examples, the NATO European community had failed ISAF by not contributing more soldiers and equipment to the outcome of Operation MEDUSA.
Planning and coordination
- "I had determined they wanted me to attack them head on, à la World War I, at enormous cost in soldiers, both Afghan and coalition. But I would not accept that as an acceptable course of operation."
- ― Brigadier General Fraser, commenting on the what he perceived as the Taliban's strategy [src]
Controlling the Canadian forces from the sprawling NATO base at Kandahar Airfield, Brigadier-General David Fraser, Canada's top-ranking soldier in theatre and NATO's overall commander for the embattled south of Afghanistan, foresaw the type of battle that lay ahead for the newly arrived soldiers of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR) — a large scale campaign against an increasing number of enemy insurgents who had established their main stronghold around Pashmul, despite previously having had their plans for attack temporarily checked by Task Force Orion. Likewise, Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie, commanding officer of 1RCR and the Canadian battle group Task Force 3-06, quickly realized that the ground mission was going to be more conventional in nature, à la the Cold War, and fought against the large number of Taliban insurgents that intelligence had learned were continuously massing outside of Kandahar City. It was this type of battle that the Taliban had hoped to engage in; a conventional battle which they hoped to win in order to show that they could mass enough troops, at any time, to defeat any foreign military, including the armies of NATO. However, the Canadian commanders in Kandahar realized that this was what the Taliban had planned and instead developed their own plan of attack which would effectively surround the massed insurgent force and attack them from every side.
Planned and coordinated by Fraser, Lavoie and several other Canadian officers, Operation MEDUSA soon came together and comprised several distinct formations totalling almost 1,400 coalition soldiers, with the main force being 1,050 soldiers from Canada's TF 3-06 as well as a handful of Canadian special forces operators. The remaining NATO-ISAF contributions were made up of Task Force 31, which was comprised of coalition — mainly American — special forces soldiers; Task Force Grizzly, which was commanded by Colonel Richard Williams and initially made up of an American infantry company, and would later be augmented by Major Andrew Lussier’s ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance) squadron composed of armoured reconnaissance units from the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and Recce Platoon and a sniper detachment from 1RCR; Task Force Mohawk, a company of American soldiers largely drawn from the 10th Mountain Division; a Danish blocking force squad; and a Dutch infantry company.
The initial main Canadian force was Charles Company from 1RCR, under the command of Major Matthew Sprague, and they were to move through the southern village of Baazar-E-Panjwayi and capture the high points of the area — Masum Ghar and Mar Ghar — which would essentially isolate the town of Panjwai itself, thus severing a main artery of the insurgent's territory; this would also provide the battle group with a tactically advantageous overwatch position over the advancing coalition soldiers. 1RCR's Bravo Company, commanded by Major Geoff Abthorpe, was to operate in the north and push southwards in effort to eventually link up with Charles Company as they advanced northward. Also operating in the south was Alpha Company, commanded by Major Charles Wright, which was from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) and attached to 1RCR for the duration of TF 3-06; In position along the eastern flank was Task Force 31 whose orders were two-fold: prevent the insurgents from retreating along that route, and to use their special operations training to continuously harass the dug-in defenders. Also operating along the eastern flank were the soldiers of Task Force Grizzly. In the west a Danish infantry squad was positioned as a blocking force, effectively cutting off that route of retreat for any insurgents. Operating in the north, behind the advancing Canadians of 1RCR's Bravo Company, were a company of Dutch soldiers who were ordered to constantly patrol that perimeter. With coalition soldiers positioned surrounding the area where the Taliban insurgents had massed their forces, it was hoped that the Canadians and other NATO-ISAF forces would be able to destroy the majority of the encircled defenders; firstly through a concentrated period of coalition air and artillery strikes, lasting 72-hours; and then following that up with infantry manoeuvres to close with and engage any remaining Taliban defensive positions. Backing up the entire attack were the 155mm Howitzer batteries of 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, augmented by three Dutch Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery pieces, commanded by Major Greg Ivey. Following the combat portion of the operation the reconstruction effort, led by the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team based at FOB Wilson, would begin in an effort to make the disputed territory again livable for displaced Afghan civilians. On September 1 the infantry companies of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment moved into their starting positions for Operation MEDUSA, which was set to begin combat operations the following day.
First phase: Combat operations
- "It was carnage and it was gruesome work. I think the biggest piece of human remains was maybe a little bit bigger than a soccer ball. There was all kinds of crap all over the place. It was a toxic jungle. I tell you, it was a strange case of irony here. Medusa hadn't really started, everybody was just posturing, and we were the first ones to see all this blood and gore and crap."
- ― Major Andrew Lussier, commenting on the scene following the crash of the British Nimrod MR2 [src]
The combat phase of Operation MEDUSA officially began on September 2 at 0530 hours with Charles Company beginning their attacks to take high points of Mar Ghar and Masum Ghar, which was situated on the south side of the Arghanbad River across from Pashmul. The move went without incident or contact with the Taliban, and Charles Company successfully secured their objectives by 0600 hours. The commanding officer of Charles Company, Major Matthew Sprague, radioed back to his brigade headquarters (HQ) and reported that there was no sign of civilian persons around the main target area of Pashmul, codenamed Objective Rugby. Within thirty minutes, by 0630 hours, coalition aircraft and artillery batteries were engaging targets of opportunity across the Arghanbad in the area of the White Schoolhouse and Pashmul. Charles Company, positioned on the high point of Masum Ghar, joined the coalition barrage by firing their LAV III's 25mm cannons at insurgent targets. However, without expressed reason or explanation, brigade HQ cancelled several planned airstrikes against known and suspected Taliban command and control nodes.
Following Charles Company's successful taking of Mar Ghar and Masum Ghar, the Canadian soldiers of Major Andrew Lussier's ISTAR unit, which were positioned just south of Masum Ghar, took note of something that they saw in the sky heading towards them. Advised by his soldiers to witness what they were seeing, Lussier emerged from his LAV III just in time to watch as a British Nimrod MR2 ASUW plane arched in the sky, engulfed by a bright orange fireball. The men of the Canadian ISTAR unit watched as the MR2 plane continued its decent and crashed into the Afghan desert a few kilometres away from their position. Realizing that the British crash site was dangerously close to the Taliban defenders of the Pashmul area, Lussier immediately ordered his reconnaissance platoon to head to the downed aircraft. Lussier realized that it was imperative that coalition forces reach the crash site before any insurgents could; not only could the top-secret spy equipment aboard the crashed jet not be allowed to fall into enemy hands, but, Lussier knew, there may also be survivors who required immediate help. Escorted by an American AH-64 Apache who also decided to make its way to the crash site, Lussier led his men towards the downed British jet. The Apache helicopter and Canadian soldiers arrived at the crash site and linked up with an American rescue/medical squad to begin surveying the site — it was obvious that none of the fourteen British service members aboard the aircraft survived. Lussier and his men would stay in the area for the rest of the day and into the next, September 3, to secure and guard the crash site. It was later learned that the British spy plane, while in support of the ground manoeuvres of Operation MEDUSA, experienced technical malfunctions which caused it to crash. The crash itself, according to the British government, was not the result of insurgent fire.
Meanwhile, Task Force 3-06's HQ reported that eighty insurgents had been detained by Afghan government forces since the beginning of the operation, and that it had been assessed that approximately 250 Taliban had been either killed or wounded within the target area of Objective Rugby. Despite the initial reports of insurgent losses, LCol Lavoie held his main infantry companies back from directly assaulting Rugby since the HQ battle plan called for a continuous bombardment over the next 48-hour period of Taliban positions before any line units were to advance to contact on the main objective. During this time, the Canadians were helped by Major Andrew Lussier's ISTAR squadron, which was tasked with providing reconnaissance information for the advancing line units. ISTAR made use of unmanned aerial vehicles, and other reconnaissance technology available to them, to monitor the Taliban's manoeuvres and to hinder insurgent movement. This in turn helped the Canadians to track, engage, and destroy Taliban units as they positioned themselves for battle, such as ambushing coalition units. Due to the advantages that Lussier's ISTAR unit provided them, the Canadians were able to, in most cases, stay one step ahead of the Taliban defenders and keep them hemmed in within the circle of NATO-ISAF coalition forces surrounding them.
Change of plans
- "The old adage is, 'time spent in recce is seldom wasted.' We never got to do a recce. Therefore, we never had a tactical plan because we never had time to make one."
- ― Major Matthew Sprague, commenting on Fraser's decision to alter the plan of attack [src]
With the morning of September 2 a flurry of activity, between the crash of the British Nimrod MR2 and the NATO artillery barrage which was targeting Objective Rugby, BGen Fraser decided to visit the forward line at Masum Ghar and witness the developing situation for himself. Arriving at Masum Ghar at around 1400 hours, Fraser observed that insurgent activity had tapered off. Seeing this, Fraser made the decision to forgo the planned 72-hour artillery and air barrages and instead push ahead with the infantry attack that same day, which would be spearheaded by Charles Company, 1RCR.
This change of orders was not well received by many of the officers and NCO's operating under Fraser's command. One RCR officer made a point of asking, "What's the rush? We know where they are, it's a free fire zone." LCol Lavoie, 1RCR commander, approached Fraser and the two had a discussion about whether it was the right time to push into the enemy's territory, with so little preparation and before the artillery and air attacks were concluded. Fraser, on the other hand, believed, because of intelligence he had received, that there was nothing to gain from another forty-eight hours of bombardments. Even though the two had conflicting views, Fraser noted that, because of the level of trust and co-operation that they had with each other, the two officers were able to have frank and open discussions taken from both of their perspectives.
While the NCO's who had to attack across the Arghanbad did not fully understand Fraser's sudden change of plans, Fraser, from his own appraisal of the situation and intelligence being received, made it clear to his officers that he believed the enemy had been weakened and was ready to be exploited through a sudden assault. The soldiers, however, who had to carry out the attack the following morning would later realize that Fraser's evaluation of the situation was, at best, optimistic. The senior NCO's and junior officers believed, especially after their early morning attack on September 3, that the extra forty-eight hours, along with the bombardment that would have continued, would have allowed them several distinct advantages in addition to destroying several of the large buildings that the Taliban were efficiently using as cover. The commander of Charles Company, Maj. Sprague, believed that the decision to move the attack up was a waste of resources and time as the Canadians could have effectively used that time to harass the Taliban defenders and draw them out, thus allowing 1RCR's heavy weapons to engage them.
Despite Lavoie's and other officers concerns about moving the infantry advance ahead of schedule, Fraser stood fast on his decision to move up the ground assault. Lavoie, however, did manage to convince Fraser to postpone the attack until first light on the morning of September 3.
Initial push across the Arghanbad
- "Enemy 50 metres to the front, defend yourself."
- ― Corporal Sean Teal, speaking to a severely wounded Corporal Richard Furoy [src]
On the morning of September 3, Maj. Sprague followed orders and led Charles Company across the Arghanbad River towards Objective Rugby. The landscape around Objective Rugby has been described as a "guerrilla fighter's paradise", a fact that the Canadians of Task Force Orion had already learned the previous month during the Battle at the White Schoolhouse. The Pashmul area is riddled with interconnected systems of irrigation ditches that the Taliban would use as a wide trench system to move insurgents and materials between locations. Then there were the real trench systems and fortified compounds that the Taliban has built in the area: fortified buildings and a network of purposefully build trenches interlinked with tunnels. All of these defensive redoubts were found within the seemingly endless complex of bisecting treelines, fields of corn, and dense marijuana plants that grow so high that both assaulting and defending troops were essentially hidden as they moved around the battlefield.
Friendly fire incident
- "Stop, stop, stop. Charles Company has just been fucking strafed."
- ― Major Lussier, relaying a message via radio to his troops regarding the friendly fire attack [src]
Attacks from the north
After two failed attempts ISAF forces paid their attention to the North. Where air strikes and Canadian and Dutch artillery supposedly trapped an estimated 700 Taliban. On September 8th the attack started and ISAF troops killed an estimated forty Taliban and destroyed, took three Taliban positions, destroyed a bomb-making factory, and a weapons cache.
Late on the 9th another attack started which killed ninety-four Taliban and when the Taliban counter-attacked the next day ISAF troops killed another ninety-two. After those engagements Taliban troops were reported to have fled but there were still all kinds of booby traps. And then on the 14th ISAf troops once again went on the attack into the rest of Pashmul. On the 17th the Operation was reported to be over. Even though ISAF troops won control over the Panjwaii and Zhari districts 400 Taliban fled and took control of the Gulistan district.
The taking of Sperwan Ghar
The fall of Objective Rugby
- "We established a line just north of the school, and then all of a sudden we start seeing LAV antennas to the north. It was crazy. And that was it, Rugby was secure and everything was good to go."
- ― Captain Derek Wessan, recalling the fall of Objective Rugby [src]
Second phase: Reconstruction
- "Four Canadian soldiers have been killed and nine others wounded, one seriously, during a ground assault on an insurgent position as part of a major NATO offensive in southern Afghanistan."
- ― Initial CBC News report on the events of September 3, 2006 [src]
Throughout the course of Operation MEDUSA the NATO-ISAF coalition sustained numerous casualties, ranging from direct combat with the Taliban, suicide bombers, friendly fire, and accident.Due to its position of leading the operation, and thus committing approximately 75% of the deployed land forces, Canada sustained the highest number of non-accident related casualties, with fifteen soldiers killed in action and more than sixty wounded between September 2 and October 14, 2006. Of the fifteen Canadian KIA: four were killed on September 3 during contact with the Taliban, Warrant Officer's Richard Nolan and Frank Mellish, Sergeant Shane Stachnik, and Private William Cushley;  four were killed on September 18, Private David Byers, and Corporals Shane Keating, Keith Morley and Glen Arnold, during a foot patrol when a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up; Private Josh Klukie was killed on September 29 by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a foot patrol; two, Sergeant Craig Gillam and Corporal Robert Mitchell, were killed on October 3 when the road construction project they were a part of was attacked; Trooper Mark Wilson was killed on October 7 when the RG-31 Nyala vehicle he was riding in struck an IED; and two, Sergeant Darcy Tedford and Private Blake Williamson, were killed on the final day of Operation MEDUSA's reconstruction phase when their unit was ambushed by the Taliban, south of Kandahar City. Canada's wounded during Operation MEDUSA composed of: initial reports said that nine were wounded on September 3 during the initial push across the Arghanbad River — through interviews and research, this number was later updated to ten wounded from the 3rd; thirty-five were wounded on September 4 as a result of the A-10 friendly fire incident, six of whom were seriously wounded; four soldiers were wounded on September 5 during combat against the Taliban; ten were wounded on September 18 as a result of a suicide bomber; one soldier was wounded on September 29 from an IED; five were wounded on October 3 during an ambush by the Taliban; and three were wounded on October 14 as a result of an insurgent attack.
The United Kingdom sustained the deaths of fourteen service members when a British Nimrod MR2, which was supporting the ground forces of Operation MEDUSA, suffered a technical malfunction which caused it to crash a few kilometres south of Masum Ghar. The British government's investigation into the matter determined that the MR2 did not crash due to insurgent fire. The crash victims included twelve Royal Air Force (RAF) airmen, one soldier from the Parachute Regiment, and one marine from the Royal Marines. The names of those who were killed in the crash of Nimrod MR2 are: Flight Lieutenants Steven Johnson, Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, Gareth Rodney Nicholas, Allan James Squires, Steven Swarbrick, Flight Sergeants Gary Wayne Andrews, Stephen Beattie, Gerard Martin Bell, Adrian Davies, Sergeants Benjamin James Knight, John Joseph Langton, Gary Paul Quilliam, Lance Corporal Oliver Simon Dicketts (Parachute Regiment), and Marine Joseph David Windall.
The United States of America sustained one killed and at least four wounded soldiers during the course of Operation MEDUSA. On September 9 Sergeant 1st Class Michael T. Fuga was serving as a mentor with an Afghan National Army (ANA) unit during Operation MEDUSA, where he was killed by insurgent small-arms fire. During the multi-day battle for Sperwan Ghar, Task Force 31, which was composed of coalition — mainly American — special forces operators, sustained two seriously wounded soldiers, Sergeant's 1st Class Gregory Stube and Sean Mishra, and at least two mildly-wounded soldiers, Staff Sergeant Jude Voss and an unnamed soldier who was shot. One Afghan soldier was also listed as being wounded during the battle after he stepped on a land mine.
Controversy surrounding insurgent casualties
- "They are saying that they have killed 200 Taliban but they did not kill even 10 Taliban. They are just destroying civilian homes and agricultural land. They are using the media to do propaganda against the Taliban."
- ― Mullah Dadullah, Taliban commander of south and southeastern Afghanistan, commenting on the opening stages of Operation MEDUSA [src]
- "At least 14 civilians have died in bombings of suspected Taliban compounds as part of the Canadian-led offensive against insurgents in the notorious district of Panjwai, according to local officials and villagers."
- ― Graeme Smith, foreign correspondent for The Globe and Mail, reporting on events from September 8, 2006 [src]
Friendly fire Board of Inquiry
- "Members of the Board of Inquiry produced a thorough report with recommendations which, I am convinced, will help safeguard the lives of our soldiers in the future. Risk is inherent to military operations, however we must always seek to mitigate it."
- ― General Rick Hillier, who was Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, commenting on the Board of Inquiry [src]
Awards and decorations earned
Many months after the conclusion of Operation MEDUSA various military decorations were awarded to Canadian Forces soldiers, as well as one American soldier who was serving alongside the Canadians, for their bravery and dedication to duty during the execution of Operation MEDUSA. One soldier would be awarded the Star of Military Valour, the second highest military award for bravery in Canada; six soldiers were awarded Canada's third highest medal for bravery, the Medal of Military Valour; and one soldier was mentioned in dispatches during the course of the operation. Likewise, the commander of Task Force Grizzly, an American Army National Guard colonel, was awarded Canada's Meritorious Service Medal (military division) for his direction and professionalism while commanding the actions of his task force during MEDUSA.
Corporal Sean Teal
- "His brave and professional actions saved lives and allowed the orderly withdrawal of his platoon under heavy fire."
- ― From the Star of Military Valour citation for Corporal Teal [src]
For actions committed during Operation MEDSUSA, Canada's second highest military award for bravery, the Star of Military Valour, was awarded to Corporal Sean Teal who, during the operation, was a member of 7 Platoon, Charles Company, 1RCR. On September 3, during the initial push across the Arghandab River, WO Nolan, Cpl Teal, Cpl Furoy and an Afghan interpreter were riding in a G-Wagon behind the main column of advancing LAV IIIs. During this time the Canadian force came under a coordinated three-side attack from the Taliban insurgents who were defending the area. The G-Wagon, which was being driven driven by Teal, took a direct hit from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), immediately killing WO Nolan, severely wounding Furoy and the interpreter, and lightly wounding Teal. During the ensuing fight against the insurgent attack, Teal took control of the situation and, moving forward to close with the enemy, almost single handedly defended his wounded comrades against the Taliban. Despite the fact that he was wounded, Teal moved his way across the battlefield to report his section's situation and to also signal for help. During this time Teal would return twice to the destroyed G-Wagon to provide medical care and evacuation of the wounded, and to keep the advancing enemy at bay. Due to the actions which he displayed while under fire, and his willingness to place himself in harms way to aid his wounded comrades, Corporal Teal was awarded the Star of Military Valour.
Sergeant Derek Fawcett
- "Continuously exposed to intense enemy fire, Sergeant Fawcett repeatedly crossed open terrain to lead the evacuation of casualties back to the designated collection point."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Sergeant Fawcett [src]
While serving with Charles Company, 1RCR Sergeant Derek Fawcett took part in the initial battle group attack across the Arghandab River against the Taliban insurgent positions. Early during the attack, the Canadians came under a concentrated three-pronged attack from the defenders which managed to knock out several Canadian vehicles, including a G-Wagon in which WO Nolan was killed and the rest of the occupants were wounded. Responding to a distress signal from the lone G-Wagon soldier who could mount a defence of the disabled vehicle, Fawcett, along with two other soldiers, fought their way through the enemy attack so they could lend assistance to the crew of the disabled G-Wagon. Repeatedly, Fawcett crossed the open battle field so that he could help extract the dead and wounded back to the mass casualty collection point. For his actions that he showed while under fire, which helped save the lives of numerous fellow soldiers, Sergeant Fawcett was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Master Corporal Sean Niefer
- "He subsequently provided covering fire from a highly exposed position to facilitate their evacuation and, by doing so, saved the lives of numerous fellow soldiers."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Master Corporal Niefer [src]
On September 3 during the second day of Operation MEDUSA, Master Corporal Sean Niefer was a member of Charles Company, 1RCR and was in a LAV III armoured vehicle, code named 3-1 Bravo, that was supporting the main attack across the Arghandab River. During this push towards the enemy positions, Charles Company came under an intense Taliban attack from three sides. Hitting the Canadians with RPG and small-arms fire, the insurgents managed to disable a number of coalition vehicles and kill or wound several 1RCR soldiers. It was during the first few minutes of the insurgent ambush that Niefer ordered 3-1 Bravo into a part of the enemy's kill zone so that its 25 mm chain gun could support the evacuation of wounded soldiers who were trapped inside the ambush zone. However, the main gun jammed after firing just a few rounds and Niefer immediately moved himself into the LAV III's top hatch and started providing cover fire using the vehicle's top-mounted machine gun. As the evacuation of the wounded continued, Niefer continuously provided covering fire from the highly exposed top position of the LAV III; his actions subsequently saved the lives of a number of his fellow soldiers. For his decisions, leadership and actions under enemy contact that day, Mcpl Niefer was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Corporal Jason Funnell
- "Corporal Funnell of 7 Platoon Charles Company braved intense enemy fire to come to the assistance of his comrades trapped in a disabled vehicle in an enemy kill zone."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Corporal Funnell [src]
On the morning of September 3 Corporal Jason Funnell was a member of 7 Platoon, Charles Company, 1RCR and was participating in the initial push against the Taliban insurgents who were situated at Objective Rugby. When the defending enemy launched a surprise counter-attack against the advancing Canadians, several coalition vehicles were disabled by RPG and small-arms fire. One vehicle, a G-Wagon jeep which contained WO Nolan, Cpl Teal, Cpl Furoy and an Afghan interpreter, took a direct hit from an RPG rocket, killing WO Nolan, severely wounding the interpreter and Cpl Furoy, and lightly wounding Cpl Teal. During the ensuing confrontation Cpl Teal was able to signal the closet LAV III, call sign 3-1 Charlie, which contained Cpl Funnell and a number of other soldiers. Funnell, along with two other soldiers, hurried to respond to Teal's distress call, all the while returning fire against the enemy positions. Twice ignoring his personal safety, Funnell navigated through the incoming enemy fire and managed to assist in the treatment and evacuation of the dead and wounded soldiers from the destroyed G-Wagon. For his actions that day under heavy enemy fire, Corporal Funnell was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Corporal Clinton Orr
- "His focus on the mission and his courage in the face of danger have brought great credit to the Canadian Forces and to Canada."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Corporal Orr [src]
Having deployed to Afghanistan as an engineer with 23 Field Squadron attached to the 1RCR battle group, Corporal Clinton Orr was a part of Charles Company's initial attack across the Arghandab River on September 3. During that time he was the operator of an engineering armoured vehicle, attached to 2 Troop, in support of the main attack against the insurgent positions. While under heavy enemy fire, Orr continuously placed himself in danger by manoeuvering his armoured vehicle so that he could assist in extracting a damaged LAV III vehicle that had been disabled by enemy rocket attacks. Following the successful withdrawal of the first LAV III, Orr again positioned his vehicle so as to extract a second disabled armoured vehicle; Orr only ceased his attempts at recovering the second vehicle when he was informed that all of the vehicle's crew had been evacuated to a safe distance. For his devotion to the mission and to his comrades that day, Corporal Orr was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Corporal Joseph Ruffolo
- "In a subsequent attack, he again exposed himself to enemy fire to render first aid to a casualty."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Corporal Ruffolo [src]
Tasked as an infanteer with Charles Company, 1RCR, Corporal Joseph Ruffolo took part in the first attack against Objective Rugby on September 3. During the inital push across the Arghanbad River Ruffolo, who was the driver for his LAV III armoured vehicle, accidently slammed the heavy fighting vehicle into the side of an ten-foot deep irrigation ditch. Immediately realizing that the LAV III was now an easy target, the Taliban began pouring both small-arms fire and RPG rockets onto the LAV, with at least two rockets scoring direct hits against the vehicle. Eventually, a Canadian handled bulldozer was dispatched in an attempt extract Ruffolo's vehicle from the enemy fire zone. In the ensuing confusion the cable to hook the LAV III up to the bulldozer could not be found, but Ruffolo managed to locate it and help, while under fire, to hook his vehicle up for extraction. However, the bulldozer could not move budge the LAV III at all and Ruffolo again got out of his vehicle and, this time, unhooked it from the bulldozer allowing it to withdraw back to safety. During the same confrontation on September 3, Ruffolo again exposed himself while under concentrated enemy fire so that he could provide first aid medical care to a wounded Canadian soldier. For his efforts that day, both of which involved placing himself in great danger, Corporal Ruffolo was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Private Michael O'Rourke
- "Private O’Rourke […] selflessly ignored his personal safety by braving intense enemy fire to assist in the treatment and evacuation of his comrades trapped in a disabled vehicle."
- ― From the Medal of Military Valour citation for Private O’Rourke [src]
During Operation MEDUSA Private Michael O'Rourke was a member of 7 Platoon, Charles Company, 1RCR and took part in the initial Canadian attack across the Arghandab River. Early during the attack, the Canadian advance came under a concentrated counter-attack from the defenders who managed to knock out several heavy and light Canadian vehicles, including a G-Wagon in which WO Nolan was killed and the rest of the occupants were wounded. Responding to a distress signal from the lone G-Wagon soldier who could mount a defence of the disabled vehicle, Sergeant Fawcett led O'Rourke and another soldier in a fight across the open battle field so that they could help extract the crew of the disabled G-Wagon. Twice O'Rourke was able to cross the enemy kill zone, all the while returning effective fire, so that he could help in the evacuation of the dead and wounded back to the safety of the Canadian lines. For the actions that he displayed that day, which effectively helped save the lives of several soldiers, Private O'Rourke was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.
Master Corporal Dwayne Orvis
- "His courage and strong leadership under extreme stress exemplified the finest traditions of his profession and brought great honour to the Canadian Forces and to Canada."
- ― From the Mention in Dispatches citation for Master Corporal Orvis [src]
The final Canadian honour to be awarded from Operation MEDUSA to a Canadian Forces member was a Mention in Dispatches which was awarded to Master Corporal Orvis who was serving as an engineer with Charles Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment. On the morning of September 3, 2006, which was the second day of Operation MEDUSA, the engineer section that Mcpl Orvis was in came under fierce enemy fire. The section's light armoured vehicle (LAV), call sign Echo 3-2, suffered a direct hit from an 82-mm recoilless rifle round which severely damaged it, resulting in the death of section commander Sgt Shane Stachnik and the wounding of several others. Immediately after this attack, and while still under intense enemy contact, Mcpl Orvis took charge of the remaining members of his section, directed medical care for those who required it, and helped lead the survivors to safety. Due to these actions during contact with the enemy, Mcpl Orvis was awarded a Mentions in Dispatches.
Colonel Richard Williams
- "Colonel Williams of the United States Army applied dogged determination […] to ensure that Task Force Grizzly performed to exceptional standards."
- ― From the Meritorious Service Medal citation for Colonel Williams [src]
During Operation MEDUSA, Colonel Williams, an American National Guard officer, was tasked with leading Task Force Grizzly which was a combined force of American soldiers, Royal Canadian Dragoons, artillery and air force fire controllers, Canadian snipers, and the remnants of Charles Company following the events of September 3-4. Williams orders were to hold the southren area of the battle field, and disrupt the enemy in such a way that they would believe his force was much larger than it actually was. Even though William's, described by various Canadians who served with him during MEDUSA as "a cowboy", and his command style often came to a head with the Canadian officers whom he commanded (and even resulted in those same officers, at one point, disobeying and altering William's orders), Williams eventually proved himself capable of the task at hand. Partially due to his continued determination and leadership during Operation MEDUSA, Colonel Williams was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (military division) by the Canadian government.
Effects on those involved
- "I found some of the best therapy was just sitting around and talking about it with fellow soldiers."
- ― Michael O’Rourke, MMV [src]
2010 Afghan War Diary controversy
- "Somebody wrote a document, obviously, and was wrong in what they wrote."
- ― General (ret.) Rick Hillier, commenting on the leaked documents pertaining to Operation MEDUSA [src]
Notes and references
This article has a collection of research notes related to it.
Duty & Valour has a collection of various images related to
Duty & Valour has a collection of audio files which are related to Operation MEDUSA.
Duty & Valour has a collection of various quotes related to
- Operation Mountain Fury in Eastern Afghanistan, retrieved from longwarjournal.org; URL accessed September 17, 2009
- Hillier: NATO offensive's aim to 'take out' Taliban leaders — CBC.ca's press coverage on December 15, 2006 reports, "Operation Falcon's Summit, or Baaz Tsuka in the Afghan language, is intended to build on the success of Operation Medusa with the aim of creating stability so reconstruction projects can begin, NATO said in a news release Friday."
- Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan
- Operation Medusa a 'significant' success: NATO, retrieved from CTV.ca; URL accessed September 15, 2009
- Two members of The RCR die in ambush, retrieved from army.forces.gc.ca; URL accessed September 17, 2009
- Op MEDUSA success in Panjwayi/Zhari Districts, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) press release for September 17, 2006 for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); URL accessed September 17, 2009
- The Fighting Canadians: Our Regimental History from New France to Afghanistan
- Op MEDUSA - A Summary, an article by Captain Edward Stewart, who was the Forward PAO during Operation MEDUSA.
- 4 Canadians killed, 9 injured in Afghan battle, retrieved from CBCNews.ca; URL accessed September 15, 2009
- Guardsman honored by Canadian military for bravery, retrieved from ng.mil; URL accessed September 17, 2009
- — On September 4 Canadian soldiers acquired a cell phone from several detained Taliban insurgents. When the cell phone started to ring an interpreter, who was working for the Canadians, answered the phone and a senior-level Taliban was screaming at the interpreter asking why a certain section of the Taliban defenders were not attacking the Canadians.
- No Small Action: Operation Medusa, Panjwayi, Afghanistan, reproduced in Fortune Favours the Brave: Tales of Courage and Tenacity in Canadian Military History
- — On September 4 Canadian soldiers captured three Taliban insurgents who were attempting to flee the area being attacked by B Coy 1RCR. These three men attempted to pass themselves as locals fleeing the fighting, but a cell phone they were carrying suddenly rang; on the other end of the line was a senior-level commander demanding to know why they were not attacking the Canadians.
- NATO commanders demand Pakistan close Taliban sanctuary, published by EurasiaNet, retrieved from The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC) website at unhcr.org; URL accessed September 15, 22009
- Canada's Bloody War in Afghanistan — Operation Medusa; PDF accessed September 17, 2009
- The rough number of "68" wounded Canadian soldiers was reached through research of both primary and secondary sources. 68 is an approximate total since we may never know how many Canadian soldiers were in fact wounded, even slightly, during the various phases of Operation MEDUSA — the actual number may be higher, or it could be slightly lower — hence why it is given as an approximate value. The solid numbers, however, that equal 68 found are as follows: 10 were reported as wounded on September 3; 35 on Sept. 4; 4 on Sept. 5; 10 on Sept. 18; 1 on Sept. 29; 5 on October 3; and 3 on Oct. 14.
- British Armed Forces killed in Afghanistan, retrieved from mod.uk; URL accessed September 17, 2009
- iCasualties.org: Operation Enduring Freedom, listing all American casualties by date, retrieved from icasualties.org; URL accessed October 28, 2009. Sergeant 1st Class Michael T. Fuga, even though technically a part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), was serving as a mentor with an Afghan National Army (ANA) unit during Operation MEDUSA, where he was killed by enemy small-arms fire.
- Two Coalition soldiers killed in separate incidents, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) press release for September 10, 2006 for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); URL accessed September 17, 2009
- Soldier of the Week — SFC Gregory Stube, retrieved from vamortgagecenter.com; URL accessed October 27, 2009
- Taliban fought in vain on hill, retrieved from globalsecurity.org; URL accessed October 27, 2009
- Four deaths overshadow success of Operation Medusa, retrieved from canada.com; URL accessed October 27, 2009
- What the Thunder Said: Reflections of a Canadian Officer in Kandahar
- PzH 2000 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer, Germany, retrieved from www.army-technology.com; URL accessed October 21, 2009
- Coalition Warfare in Afghanistan: Burden-sharing or Disunity?; PDF accessed October 28, 2009
Source: No Small Action; Fortune Favours the Brave Attribution: Colonel Bernd Horn; Interview with Brigadier-General Fraser, 21 October 2006
BGen Fraser's initial scheme of manoeuvre for Operation MEDUSA:
- Shape the battlefield to disrupt Taliban forces through the conduct of leadership engagements; brigade manoeuvre and the intensive application of air and indirect fires (e.g., fighter aircraft, Spectre C-130 gunships, artillery);
- Conduct operations (i.e., decisive strike; link-up; and secure AO) to clear enemy out of Pashmul/Panjwayi;
- Exploit success to the West of Panjwayi to create a secure zone for the ADZ; and
- Conduct stabilization operations and reconstruction to support the return of the region's population and their security.
This work is copyrighted. The individual who transcribed this work asserts that it qualifies as fair use of the original material under the necessary copyright laws.
- Two Days in Panjwayi, reproduced in Outside the Wire: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of its Participants
- Canadian Soldier Killed in Afghanistan, CEFCOM NR–06.026 - September 29, 2006, retrieved from comfec-cefcom.forces.gc.ca; URL accessed October 28, 2009
- List of critical Canadian incidents in Afghanistan, retrieved from ctv.ca; URL accessed October 28, 2009
- Nimrod Plane Crash Victims Named, retrieved from news.sky.com; URL accessed October 27, 2009
- What Makes a Hero?, initially available at www.fayobserver.com (link is now dead), reproduced at militaryphotos.net; URL accessed October 28, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Corporal Sean Teal, S.M.V. awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Sergeant Derek John Scott Fawcett, M.M.V., C.D. awarded on May 22, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Master-Corporal Sean Hubert Niefer, M.M.V. awarded on March 15, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Corporal Jason Funnell, M.M.V. awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Corporal Clinton John Orr, M.M.V. awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Corporal Joseph Jason Lee Ruffolo, M.M.V. awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Military Valour Decorations: Private Michael Patrick O'Rourke, M.M.V. awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Mention in Dispatches: Master-Corporal Dwayne Robert Alvin Orvis awarded on March 14, 2007, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Meritorious Service Decorations - Military: Colonel Richard Stephen Williams, M.S.M. awarded on December 18, 2006, retrieved from archive.gg.ca; URL accessed October 23, 2009
- Battle at the White Schoolhouse
- Battle of Masum Ghar (August 2006)
- Battle of Sperwan Ghar
- Objective Rugby
- "Operation MEDUSA Board of Inquiry" — The official website for all Department of National Defence findings and recommendations on the friendly fire incident.